Archive | October, 2011

Where Does the Day Go?

In the 10 days that I haven’t posted, I’ve been busy with the stuff that life hands out to each of us from time to time. As I dealt with one thing after another, at the back of my mind, I was thinking about Time – yes, Time with a capital ‘T’.

24 hours; a full day. And it’s gone before you know it. As you haul your exhausted, tense, sore, pained body and mind to bed and think about your day, you find yourself compiling a long list of all the things you meant to accomplish today but didn’t.

To this list, you add the unexpected additions to your workload that cropped up during the day. Such as the house guest you can’t refuse, an aching tooth that needs to be attended to, the baby sitter cancelling at the last moment so you have to either arrange another one or not attend that important official dinner (with your partner) tomorrow evening…

Your list is burgeoning. In fact, it is bursting at the seams. When you wake up in the morning, you hit the ground running, taking phone calls, checking email, fitting in a workout, getting the kids organized, doing household chores, getting yourself out the door (or ready to work indoors), working … All the words you can think of end in ‘ING’. Yup! You’re DO-ing things all the time.

As you drive (driving), you’re thinking of the presentation you need to make. As you eat lunch (eating), you’re reminding yourself to pick up the test reports from the hospital on your way back home. As your child greets a tired you and you’re responding and listening to her, you’re thinking of how you can get as many things crossed off your ‘To Do’ List before the day is done.

No matter what you do, you bemoan not having enough time to do all the things you’d like to do, to meet all the people you’d like to meet, for as long as you’d like to meet them (Ah! But will they have the time? 🙂 ), go to all the places you’d like to visit…

Your life, interrupted – by lack of time.

Alright. Suppose you do have enough time to do what you’d like to do. What might your day look like?

Stop right here and write what your ideal day would look like. Include everything you can think of, and be sure to build in transition times. For instance, once you’re dressed, you don’t really dash out the door. You take a couple of minutes to collect everything you need to take with yourself, maybe check to see you have switched off the gas, shut the windows – all of this takes time.

My day would ideally look like this:

Sleep: 6 hours. Okay, maybe 7! 🙂

Exercise: 1 hour (I’m a far cry from here right now!)

Quiet Time: 1 hour (another far cry, and it will probably be small chunks that add up to an hour)

Personal time (bathing, dressing, grooming, eating, drinking water): 1 hour (minimum!)

Chores (Cooking, Housekeeping, Laundry, Accounts, Grocery shopping, Home maintenance): 2 hours

Transition time (from one activity to another): 30 minutes

Keeping track of what’s going on: 30 minutes (newspaper, social networking – I don’t watch any TV)

Relaxation (Puzzle time 🙂 ): 15 minutes.

Driving: 2 hours (this is something of a minimum for me, on most days)

Hey, wait a minute! I haven’t ‘done’ a thing – no ‘work’, no social stuff, nothing professional or community-related or fulfilling, no phone calls, and more than 14 hours of my day are gone!

I suspect your ideal day would also look something like mine, give or take an hour or two under one heading or another.

On top of this, I have a kid (as do you! 🙂 ), I have family members who expect (rightly) that I am available to them at least some of the time, that we spend time together to share what’s going on in our lives, I have clients to whom I have committed my time and skills, I want to write for myself (the blog, creative fiction, story-telling)…

There’s just one four-letter word that fits this scenario: O-U-C-H!

You turn anxious eyes towards your child, looking at how she spends time, ensuring she doesn’t waste her time. You try to teach her to use her time wisely, productively from the very beginning.

“Hurry up!”

“You have 5 minutes to finish this project before we go for basketball practice.”

“Don’t waste time!”

“Read fast!” “Write fast!” “Eat fast!” “Pack your bag quickly!”

“Why do you take so long to get dressed?”

“Stop admiring yourself in the mirror – we’re getting late!”

And what is she doing? She’s got her eyes turned to you! She’s looking at how you spend your day. She sees you irritable from lack of sleep, but pushing yourself to stay awake so you can finish working on that document. She sees you listen to her tell you about her day as you’re trying to watch the news, cook dinner, and get a load in the wash. She sees you ‘help’ her with her homework while you change her little sister’s diaper, sew a missing button, tidy up the living room, and fix an appointment with the plumber for that leaking faucet.

And the child that woke up happy and bright, eager to face the day, slowly learns to get up exhausted, jump unwillingly out of bed, and zombie her way through the day. From you. The same way that my child learns from me.

When is it going to change? Remember when you first started working? You were in your 20s (maybe even in your teens), and you thought you ruled the world. If you could only push yourself hard enough, you’d be on top of the tree. And once you got there, you’d rest and relax and ‘enjoy’ your life.

Well, it’s been a good few years since then, and if you’re honest with yourself, you ‘enjoyed’ yourself more then, than you do now.

As you’ve just seen, even after you’ve achieved everything you want to achieve, you’ll still be spending more than half your day doing the same stuff you do now (and that is without ‘work’!).

That is half of your life. Might as well enjoy it, don’t you think?

I didn’t think so, till I read a Sufi story, the upshot of which was: People are strange; they keep rushing toward the future, at the end of which is death. They say they want to live, to enjoy life, but they hurry on towards death.

You’ll never have it all done because life is a present continuous entity – always ‘ING’. Free yourself and your child from the tyranny of time. It is a worthwhile gift to give your child.

And if ever you find yourself with nothing left on your ‘To Do’ List, know this: You are dead.

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Strategies to Calm Your Child

How many times in a day do you feel the need to calm to your child?

He doesn’t have to cry or kick his heels on the floor in a tantrum. Maybe he’s out-of-control angry, and you want to calm him. Maybe she’s so excited about something that she’s becoming hysterical, or refusing to go to sleep. It could be fear holding your child in its grip. Or laughter – sometimes, you can laugh so hard you’re struggling to breathe!

Whatever the emotion, beyond a point, it needs to be managed.  

Here are some ideas:

1. Declare “Quiet Time” – I have used this successfully with lots of children. It works under 2 conditions: firstly, your parenting style must involve your doing something with your child. It could be giving her a bath, reading him a story, gardening, shooting hoops – whatever.

You’re solving a jigsaw puzzle with your son. When you finish you might say, “Now we’ll have some “Quiet Time”. He’ll ask, “What’s that?” You answer: “We both sit quietly, doing nothing. We don’t speak, don’t do any work, don’t watch TV or read a book or play or put things away or listen to music. We just sit quietly, doing nothing. We don’t even hug or hold hands.”

Sit yourselves down in front of a clock with a second hand, if need be, and tell your child: it’s “Quiet Time” (QT) for 1 minute. If he can’t tell the time, tell him that 1 minute means the second hand will move once around the clock from 12 to 12, and then QT is finished. By the way, you might want to start with 2 minutes or more. Also, it’s not your child who will get fidgety; it’s you who won’t be able to handle ‘doing nothing’!

He might think it’s weird, but he won’t question it, because he’s used to doing things with you – this will be just another thing you do together. You will definitely think it’s weird, but try and stick with it, because it works. Gradually, increase the time to 2 minutes, 3 minutes and so on, till you are up to 5 or 10 minutes.

Make sure you have at least 1 QT session a day, if not more. Initially, declare QT at arbitrary times of the day – when you are both peacefully engaged in whatever you’re doing, not when you are trying to calm him.

When he (and you! 🙂 ) get used to QT, you can begin to introduce it when he needs calming. It’s an activity he knows well by now, so it’ll work. But keep doing QT even at no-need-for-calming times, or he’ll get wise to your strategy, and won’t ‘play’ QT any longer! 🙂

QT works if you do things with your kids, and if you introduce them and get them used to the idea during regular times.

I’ve seen a 7-year old struggle with learning to tie her shoelaces, and declare QT to her dad when she became too frustrated! 🙂

 2. Offer a glass of water – Most of us could do with more water in our bodies. Children are no different. When hysteria is ruling the roost, offer your child a full glass of water, and ask that she drink it. If you start this when she is young, it will work for her right through life.

Drinking a full glass of water requires time, which gives your child a break from the extreme emotion. It hydrates the body, thereby reducing stress and lowering her heart rate.  Invariably, she will be calmer.

I am such a great believer in this, that if a child comes to me saying, “I’m bored. What should I do?” one of my top 3 responses is “drink a glass of water”. (The other 2 are “I don’t know” and “Take all your clothes off and stand outside the house”! 🙂  No, really! My logic for giving the last suggestion is “you’ll never be bored for the rest of your life!” 🙂 )

3. Go outside for a walk – with your clothes on! 😉 We spend too much time boxed up indoors. Just being outdoors, seeing space around us is healing. Even if you live in a concrete jungle, even if you don’t have very good air quality, even if it’s noisy – go outside. Take your child out of the house, and walk together.

Walk aimlessly. If you use the walk to pick up groceries, visit a friend, or get some work done, it will be much less effective as a calming strategy. As you use going-outside-the-house-and-walking, your child will begin to relate the aimless walk with calming down; he will begin to ‘get’ it.

Keep conversation to a minimum. Conversation fans emotion. Just be silent and walk. If he wants to say or ask anything, respond normally. For instance, when you’ve been walking for a few minutes, he might say, “Are you angry with me?” Speak long enough to reassure him that you’re not; you’re just in a quiet mood and want to be with him. Say no more.

As you both walk and he calms down, you might strike up a conversation, and that is fine. In fact, it’s great! But let it be his decision to speak or not.

 4. Hold your child – Young children accept being held by their parents. As they grow, first boys and then girls, begin to shrug off your cuddles, caresses and hugs. The accepted physical expressions become an arm around a shoulder, a pat on the back, a head leant on a shoulder, a squeeze of the arm or hand, a moment’s hand-holding, a touch, and eventually, maybe just silence. As your child grows from one stage to another, and depending upon the specific emotion she is going through, different things will work. But they all centre around holding your child.

 Croon something soothing, if you wish; or just hold her quietly. Keep holding her long past what you believe is necessary. Even if you believe she is in an uncomfortable position, don’t pull away. Ask her if she’d like to be more comfortable. If she does, she’ll move herself, but stay in your arms. You keep holding her, till she pulls away.

Do let me know your experience with these strategies, if and when you try any of them!

P.S. There’s another benefit to the first 3 – they work for you as well! 🙂

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Deconstructing Good Grades

Let’s deconstruct Good Grades. There are two words here: Good, and Grade.

What is a Grade? It is an indication of comparative performance. A grade indicates that on a given day, amongst a specific bunch of people, somebody thought that your child deserved a particular grade.

Change any of the italicized words above, and your child’s grade will be different.

If the individuals in the group change, your child’s grade will change. If there is a different evaluator, your child’s grade will change. And the same child will perform differently on different days at different times.

Your brilliant child may have a headache, and get third rank in the class, as opposed to being at the top. The opposite may also happen!

Some years ago, I’d been trying to force my daughter to learn how to play chess. With her usual grace (our children are almost always graceful, till they decide they’ve had enough, and if they don’t put their foot down, we’ll end up trampling all over them! And I agree with them. 🙂 ), she agreed to take chess classes.

After a month or so, her chess coach suggested she participate in chess competitions and tournaments so she’d play against others and hone her skills. She agreed. At this point, she was making a lot of unforced errors, so both the coach and I expected that a competition would merely expose her to playing matches with real people, rather than solving chess puzzles from books, which is what she’d been doing till then. (No, I didn’t play chess with her – I was busy doing my own thing! 🙂 )

There were brilliant players participating in her age group; they’d already been winning inter-city tournaments for a few years, and were representing their schools in national competitions.

My daughter registers, and needs to play against – I think it was 5 people. One didn’t show up, so she got a walkover. And she drew 1 and defeated the other 3!

She was delighted, and I was in shock (happy too, but that was a very faraway second reaction). As for the coach, he took me aside and said, “What have you been giving her for the past few days?” (!)

Like I said, any child, on a given day, amongst a particular bunch of kids, can achieve (or fail to achieve) anything.

But you choose to ignore this. You like to think you can control results by managing actions. You reason this way: if you can ‘make’ your child study hard enough, she will be well prepared. She will get all the answers right. She will score the maximum grade possible.

And when she doesn’t get the grade you’d like her to get, you lose it.   

Let’s move on to the second word: Good. What is a ‘good’ grade? The grade you’d like your child to get! 🙂

Suppose he does get a ‘good’ grade! 🙂  What then?

Here is the sad truth: you are happy, but only for a bit. Dissatisfaction rears its ugly head soon enough, sometimes as early as a minute after learning about your child’s wonderful grade.

My daughter’s classmate topped the math exam, with 6 marks less than the maximum marks. This is a very competitive child, under constant pressure to top the class, which doesn’t usually happen, so I was very pleased to learn that she’d topped the exam. The next person was as far as another 6 marks below the topper.

When my daughter told me this child had topped, I exclaimed, “How lovely!”

My daughter replied, “Yes, and guess what? She got scolded for getting 6 marks less than the maximum! I tell you, her parents are dictators!”

I didn’t know whether to be shocked or to laugh.

Here’s your child achieving something you’ve been pushing her to do, and when she does it, you chew her out? How long do you think she’s going to try and give it her best before she just gets tired of a goalpost that is constantly shifting farther away?

I’ve had 5-year olds tell me in all seriousness, “You know, if I make a mistake in a test, Mummy hits me with her slipper.”

Parents of primary school kids boast of sending their children for after-school coaching for Math, Science, and languages.  

No wonder your child is burnt out by the time he reaches middle school. When is he going to live his life? When is he going to do it his way?

He’s toed the line (your line!) so long, he’s tired. In addition, adolescence is a hard-to-deny siren that’s pulling him away from your ‘guidance’, and he’s sick of ‘being serious’ about his studies and his sports and his co-curricular activities.

Isn’t there anything you can do? (This is the all-powerful parent ego at work.)

Sure you can! You can be quiet.

Your best strategy is silence. Not a sullen, angry, disappointed, I’ve-done-so-much-for-you-and-I’m-still-killing-myself-to-give-you-a-good-future-but-you-don’t-care-you-can’t-even-do-a-simple-thing-like-study-well-and-get-good-grades silence, but a calm, aloof, it’s-your-choice-my-dear silence.

Bite your tongue. It really will be okay.

Back off. Give him some breathing room. If he doesn’t study, let him be. No action on your part will make him change his ways. Some day he will look around. He will find his peers working towards a career. That itself will spur him on to find his focus.

Instead of getting after him, be available to him so he feels comfortable talking to you about any doubts, confusion or indecision he faces.

Being grade oriented is a foolproof way to hand over your emotions to factors completely outside your control. (You are an intelligent adult, and can see this is not smart.) It is also one of the surefire ways to negatively affect your relationship with your child.

If you have to speak, tell him to do his best, and accept it as his best effort – at that time. Don’t draw conclusions about his career, life, success and happiness because of a grade he got – or didn’t get.  

Try acceptance. You might just be surprised at the result you’ll get.

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Your Sensitive G-spot

Here’s a quiz for you. (Don’t worry, we’ll get to your G-spot immediately after the quiz! :-))

Of the options given below, pick the one that is most true for you:

Q1. Your work relates to your area of study or training.

a) True

b) False

Q2. Evaluate your level of satisfaction with the work you are doing at present:

a) I am delighted to be doing the work I do.

b) I’m reasonably happy doing what I do.

c) I’m sort of okay doing what I do. Could be better, but could be worse too.

d) I’m not too happy doing what I do.

e) I’m miserable! Help!

Alright, it’s G-spot time!

Whether you are a Dad or a Mom, you have a G-spot. And since it is a G-spot, it is sensitive. In fact, it is so sensitive, that it can ruin not just your mood, but your peace of mind and your relationships as well!

G is for Grades, the holy grail of academic achievement.

If your child makes a good grade, there’s a grin on your face and in your mind that you can’t wipe off (and you don’t want to either! 🙂 ). But more often than not, your child doesn’t make as good a grade as you’d like, and that is a niggling dissatisfaction that you can’t quite get over.

You pore over his assignments and his exam papers.

“How could you make such a silly mistake?”

“You don’t know how to spell ‘impossible’? But you spelt it okay in 3 other places! How can you misspell it in a dictation/spelling bee?”

“Really, how can you get confused between addition and multiplication at age 10? 2 x 3 is 6, not 5. Maybe it was a genuine error (! Are there any other kinds of errors? During exams?!), but you should have left enough time for revision before you gave the paper in, and you should have caught and fixed the mistake while looking over your answers! How many times do I have to tell you…?” You’re almost howling with disappointment by now.

Er – let’s get back to the quiz.

What kind of student were you? Maybe you were a star, outperforming everyone. Super! And how long did that continue? Right through high school? Undergraduate school? Graduate school? Even beyond? WOW! That is some achievement, and I congratulate you. 🙂

And you were a star because it all came naturally to you? Or did you have to put in some effort? And if you did, did you want to put in the effort? Or was someone ‘motivating’ (or pushing or nagging) you to do better? And how did you feel about it all? If you could go back today, would you still do what you did then? Or would you choose differently?

For most of us, we might have got pretty good grades through school, or even had flashes of brilliance, but we weren’t on top of the Grade game through our lives.

And whether you set new records with your Grade Point or not, what does that have to do with the work you’re doing now?

How fulfilled are you – doing the work you are doing now? Today, more than ever, people are choosing to set aside years of training in one area, and work in a completely different field. They have invested time, energy and money – their life – in a profession, and they choose to walk away from it. It might be understandable if the choice was made under pressure: a lawyer’s son ‘chooses’ to take the bar exam to continue his mother’s practice; a businessman’s daughter goes to business school …  

But even if the choice was freely made, people are choosing to walk away from earlier choices and make new choices all the time – at any time of their lives. 

I know people who chose to study at the best Ivy League engineering colleges, where they successfully competed for merit scholarships. They graduated with honors, winning medals and trophies, got wonderful jobs, worked at them, and after years, threw it all up because they wanted to study music or spirituality! And they’re back at undergraduate school, studying.

There are doctors who have trained for over a decade, worked for a while, and then decided they didn’t like it enough to spend more time at the job. Some became photographers, others joined Government (in non-medical) administration, while yet others set up factories to manufacture garments!

Why do you obsess over your child’s grades?

Stop reading for a bit, and spend some time with the question: WHY do you obsess over your child’s grades?

You know from personal experience, from the media, that how well you do at school is no guarantee that you will be happy in your chosen profession.

Or have I made a mistake? Maybe you’re not looking at your child’s happiness.

Maybe you just want to ensure that she is a ‘success’. ‘Success’ means she must make her way rapidly up one of the top 5 companies in the world in her chosen area of work. She must win accolades, she must get a fat salary, and perks you can boast about to everyone you know. And naturally, if she is ‘successful’, she will be happy. (! There is no limit to our capacity for self-delusion!)

We must remember something we are always in danger of forgetting: happiness and success are two different things.

Happiness is what you experience – you know it is real for you.

Success is tricky. You may be held up by the world as a shining example of success, but you may not believe you are a success (if you feel you could do much more, for instance). On the other hand, the world may not think much of you, but you may think you are a success (someone who wants to mow lawns because he loves to do that, and goes ahead and makes a good living from it as well!). 🙂

But you keep getting confused between happiness and success. You are so ‘achievement’ oriented, and you want the best for your kids. Heck, you want your kids to BE the best! So you hound them to ‘Get Good Grades’.

Whether or not they are capable of good grades. Whether or not they wish to get good grades. (Unfortunately for you, their wishes have everything to do with this – you can’t keep pushing them forever. It will only work if they want to get good grades for themselves.) Whether or not they are happy.

And so you make GRADES the fulcrum of your relationship with your child – the fulcrum against which you bang your head till it’s bleeding, and till your relationship with your child is in tatters, but you can’t get yourself to stop.

I’d say that’s a sensitive G-spot. Wouldn’t you?

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